And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. (Revelation 20:13)
What will become of you when you die? That is arguably the most profound and important question one can ponder, yet it is probably the least considered. Perhaps the reason lies in the fear of the unknown.
Everyone, except perhaps for the very young, has experienced the death of a loved one, and witnessed the lifeless hulk of a once warm and animated person displayed peacefully in an ornate and satin lined casket. All that remains is a well dressed and made up, cold, waxy, empty corpse. Viewers often comment on his or her appearance noting how “life-like” they look without giving a thought to the departed’s final destination much less their own. That is something we do not like to think about.
Many people carefully plan for retirement by building up their nest egg to ensure they can meet their financial needs when they stop working. Others think they cannot afford to set money aside for their old age, and presume they will figure something out when the time comes. However, both planners and non-planners give more thought to retirement than they do to life after death. If pressed on the question of what happens after death they might say they do not know, or they might view death as “the end.” Those who suggest that death is the end are in denial, and they are lying to themselves. “[God] hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set [eternity] in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, emphasis mine). Every person alive, whether they will admit it or not, knows that this life – the life experienced in this physical body – is not all there is. Because they fear the unknown, many would rather not think about it hoping to cross that bridge when they come to it.
Some who have pondered the question of life after death think heaven and hell might exist. They see hell as the destination for only the most evil of people, like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, mass murderers, child molesters, rapists, etc. Comparing themselves to these really evil people, they see themselves as prime candidates for heaven. When asked why God should allow them into heaven, they will provide a long list of their good deeds hoping that will suffice. However, if they compare their good deeds against the Ten Commandments, their shortcomings are soon exposed. With that realization, the hope then becomes that their good deeds will outweigh the bad.
John describes the scene in heaven at the end of time. He says:
And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death” (Revelation 20:11-14, emphasis mine).
It does seem that all who die will indeed be judged “according to their works” by “those things which were written in the books.” I envision a detailed ledger book for every person who has ever lived. That book contains every act, good and bad, ever committed by every individual. As with any court of law, the defendant’s actions are measured against an objective standard – the law. In this heavenly courtroom, known as the Great White Throne Judgment, one of the books by which every individual will be judged is the Law Book – the Bible. God’s Word is His perfect standard by which every person’s works will be measured – good and bad. There is only one big problem. Only a perfectly lived life gains entry into heaven. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).
No one will be guiltless. “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one … For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10, 23). But wait! There is still hope! “Another book was opened, which is the book of life … And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:12, 15, emphasis mine). That means that if the defendant’s name is logged in the Book of Life, that individual will gain entry into heaven.
Reader, is your name written in the Book of Life? Do not think for one moment that your good acts will outweigh your bad. Many “good” people will end up in hell. Only perfection qualifies for entry into heaven, and according to the Bible, no one qualifies. There is only one way to have your name written in the Book of Life. “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31, emphasis mine). “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John 14:6, emphasis mine).